WASHINGTON – As special forces try to fulfill President Bush's desire to get Usama bin Laden "dead or alive," many lawmakers say bluntly that dead is preferable. They are concerned about a trial, whether in open court or closed military tribunal.
"Kill him. Shoot him. I mean it," Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview. "I don't want to capture him. ... Unless he's walking out with a white flag, saying 'I surrender,' I'd shoot him."
"The best thing is for bin Laden to go down with the cause," said Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. "He would save us all a lot of trouble."
Death, rather than a trial, seems to be bin Laden's preference as well, given his statements that he does not intend to be taken alive. Both he and the Taliban leader have also said they would rather die than join a government with other Afghan leaders.
Some members of Congress think a public trial would be the best scenario if bin Laden is not killed in battle.
"It gives us a chance not only to show that we're a country that stands for the rule of law, but it also gives us a chance to make the case, not just to the judges but to world opinion -- chiefly to Muslim and Arab world opinion -- why this man is an enemy to all people," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.
But Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said putting bin Laden through the U.S. justice system is "the last thing you want" because he'd tie up the courts for years, becoming a martyr with a megaphone.
"A lot of people are buried in the rubble up in New York," said Skelton, top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. "There's nothing wrong with burying him in rubble somewhere."
Bush's approval this week of a military tribunal that could try foreign terrorism suspects has drawn serious concerns from lawmakers of both parties.
While the details have been left to the president to decide, the lawmakers are worried that such a tribunal would be conducted in secret with looser rules than civilian courts on evidence that can be used, and with limited or nonexistent rights to appeal.
"The concern I would have ... is the closed dynamic of this -- closed door, closed room, nobody in, nobody out, you make the judgments in secret," Hagel said. "I don't think that's the way to do this. In the eyes of the world, it's going to be very important how we handle this."
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Congress should weigh in through hearings, and possibly legislation, on how a tribunal should work.
"There are very sharp limitations possible in military tribunals -- no privilege against self-incrimination, no juries," Specter said in an interview.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Thursday he plans to hold hearings. He said Bush's order tells the world "it is acceptable to hold secret trials and summary executions, without the possibility of judicial review, at least when the defendant is a foreign national."
"The very purpose of the (Bush) directive appears to be to skirt the usual constitutional and criminal justice rules that are the hallmark of our democratic form of government," said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat.
At the same time, other lawmakers support a military tribunal, including Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's courts panel: "Congress need not insert its oars into these waters."
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said, "I'm not inclined to think that bin Laden, who's declared war against the United States, is entitled to the constitutional protections we give American citizens."
As for catching bin Laden, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said: "We'll catch him all right. I hope we catch him with deadly force."